The Roosevelt Mysteries
Theodore Roosevelt had a cordial long distance relationship with Portland and Oregon. By pressing a gold telegraph key from the East Room of the White House he signaled the start of Portland’s Lewis & Clark Exposition on June 1st 1905. More significantly, it was Roosevelt’s embrace of Portlander William Gladstone Steele’s dream which created, with his signature, Crater Lake National Park on May 22, 1902.
On May 21st 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt visited Portland. His stay would set the pattern for three more to come and set the stage for the first of three mysteries in Portland associated with him.
The President woke early that morning to greet a large crowd gathered at Junction City from the platform of his private railroad car at ten minutes to seven. Despite sporadic rain, crowds awaited him in every town. At eight he passed through Albany before stopping at Salem to greet local dignitaries. He arrived at Union Station at two to an ecstatic welcome from Portlanders who lined the route of the parade in his honor with a crowd estimated at 75,000 people.
At 4:30 his procession reached City Park (now a part of Washington Park) where a monument to Lewis & Clark was being built in anticipation of the centennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. As the rain fell, he gave a speech in honor of the explorers and the western course of empire. Then, rolling up his sleeves, he laid the cornerstone of the monument, working the cement with a silver trowel, while the crowds on the hillside and from the branches of nearby fir trees cheered.
“Today the Secretary of the Navy spoke of the great pride we take in the feats of the mighty battleship which bears the name of this state – the Oregon. It is a good thing to cheer her, but it is a better thing to see that we keep on building other ships like her, but even better.”
-Theodore Roosevelt in Portland at the Lewis & Clark Monument, May 21st 1903,
Beneath the large granite cornerstone a small copper box was sealed in cement, a time capsule, stating the purpose of the monument, a history of the expedition and the regions progress and items such as stamps, pennies, the Portland city charter and a portrait of Roosevelt.
His work completed, the President left for the Portland Hotel where was feted into the evening before continuing on to Puget Sound the next day.
The time capsule is still there.
But where exactly?
As the laying of the cornerstone preceded the construction of the monument, it is not clear whether the “cornerstone” is, at, near or under the monument. The exact location is lost to history. A wave of interest revived at the time of the monuments centennial, but the efforts of historians, stonemasons and psychics were fruitless.
In 1912 Theodore Roosevelt was back in the game. Estranged from the Republican Party establishment and unhappy with his handpicked successor, William Howard Taft, Roosevelt was once again a presidential candidate, this time with the Progressive or “Bull Moose” Party.
At seven o’clock on a bright, sunny September 11th 1912 morning, the former President arrived at Union Station to the customary crowds an enthusiastic welcome. There he was met by an old Montana friend and the local chairman of the Progressive Party, Henry Waldo Coe.
Roosevelt was whisked away to the Oregon Hotel, off of Seventh Street (later Broadway) to breakfast on cantaloupe, strawberries, ham, lamb chops, bacon, eggs, potatoes and coffee with the local party faithful. Sometime between his arrival at Union Station and breakfast, the former President made it very clear to Mr. Coe that there was to be no public speaking outdoors, at parks and such. The Colonel (as he was often referred as) was tired and so was his voice.
This would present some problems.
After an extended session of meet and greet, Roosevelt and his entourage went to the Hotel Multnomah for a luncheon. Then he joined a motorcade of dignitaries, Spanish American War veterans and a large police escort for a parade through Portland streets in an open topped car. At Chapman and Lownsdale Squares (the Plaza Blocks) a crowd of 5,000 waited, seeded by party committee with published promises the former President would speak. Tipping his hat and nodding Roosevelt greeted with “hello” and left with “goodbyes” as his car rushed by the crowds.
The Plaza Blocks.
The motorcade crossed the Hawthorne Bridge and continued up Grand to arrive at Holladay Park. There he was greeted by at least a thousand men and women, with hundreds of children and scores of babies grouped around the speakers stand.
“We want a speech” they began to chant in unison.
The site of so many mothers, children and babies weekend his resolve. He stood up in his car and began to speak:
“It’s a pleasure to be here and say a word of greeting. And as I am in the grandfather class now, I know you understand my attitude on the baby question. It pleases me to see so many children here. I believe in good citizens, but I believe that the best citizen is the one who carries in arms a little citizen. Goodbye and good luck to you all.”
-The speech, in its entirety, given by Theodore Roosevelt at Holladay Park, Portland Oregon, September 11 1912.
“Where are we going next?” asked the President.
“Another park.” replied Henry Waldo Coe, referring to a gathering of at least 2,000 (including much of Portland’s small African-American population) waiting in the North Park blocks near the corner of Flanders and Park.
It was too much.
Too much speaking, too many parks.
Theodore Roosevelt was not a man used to having his instructions disregarded. He commanded his driver to break with his motorcade and head out, somewhere far from the crowds and chaos. His car sped off, leaving the rest of the dignitaries, his police escort and his veteran honor guards in dust and confusion. Roosevelt spent the next couple hours speeding through the bucolic countryside near Kenton and St. Johns.
“After we left Holladay Park, the Colonel asked where we were going. I told him another park. He would not go saying to turn aside to some place where he could get some air. So we left the main party and drove down to Kenton and St. Johns.”
-Henry Waldo Coe, Progressive Party committeeman in the Oregonian, September 12, 1912.
Things got worse when Roosevelt re-appeared at the Hotel Oregon
The Oregon Hotel’s annex, attached to the original building was nearing completion at the time of Roosevelt’s visit and would open a year later. Today it is the Benson Hotel.
His joy ride through North Portland finished, Roosevelt returned to the Hotel Oregon for some rest before resuming his itinerary with speeches at the Gipsy Smith Tabernacle and the Moose Lodge. As he settled down in his suite, he looked forward to relaxing with a book, “The Second Roman Republic” by Paul Hermit” a favorite gift from his wife.
The book was gone.
He was sure he had it when he arrived in his suite. Someone had to have taken it. Enraged, he summoned M.K. McRea, the manager of the Hotel Oregon.
“That book I prize very highly. You had no right to allow anyone in my rooms while I was out. I want that book advertised as lost in the morning papers; you get it and send it to me either in San Francisco or Chicago. It was a volume of essays by Paul Hermit –one that I value highly. I think it was taken by some “jack” and I want it back.”
-Theodore Roosevelt to M.K. McRae at the Oregon Hotel.
The lost book, the heat, the slog of parks –Theodore Roosevelt had enough.
In Portland the search continued. A mini-scandal erupted when it was suggested that Mrs. A.W. Nicholson, a prominent member of the local Progressive committee might have taken the book by mistake while Roosevelt signed items she had presented to him (the misunderstanding would be cleared up when Roosevelt returned to Portland in 1915).
The book was never found.
The very title seems to have vanished. There is no sign of “The Second Roman Republic by Paul Hermit” on Google, or Amazon, or ABE, or Bookfinder. In the nearly fifteen years that Powell’s has catalogued its inventory, the book has never “come over the counter” at any Powell’s location.
Theodore Roosevelt died on January 6th 1919, but his final arrival in Portland was at 1:00 in the afternoon on Friday, October 13th 1922, when a large crate was lowered off the steamship S.S.Ohioan onto Municipal Pier #1 at the foot of 17th Street in Northwest Portland. There he was greeted by his old friend and political associate Dr. Henry Waldo Coe, who true to form, installed him in a park.
There was another memorial, of sorts, to Theodore Roosevelt in Portland.
A memorial to the Veterans of the Spanish American War, 18 feet high and weighing 16 tons stood near the Battleship Oregon, just south of the Hawthorne Bridge, from 1939 to 1942.
-Courtesy of Donald R. Nelson from “Progressive Portland II, Stop and Go.”
A “Colossus of Portland” built of Central Oregon rock, it looked like a gigantic Oscar statue (or as some said, Benito Mussolini). The monument was a work by Oliver Barrett, head of the University of Oregon’s sculpture department. The figure was meant to symbolize Roosevelt’s and the veteran’s spirit, “fighting, but constructive” rather than any single person.
It was not popular with either the Spanish American War veterans or by and large, the people of Portland. When Harbor Drive was being constructed over its location there was little concern when it was announced that the statue would be placed in storage across the river at Stanton Yard, until a new home could be found for it.
Somewhere between Harbor Drive and Stanton Yard the monument vanishes from all record. It appears on no city inventory thereafter.
“I think I remember it cracked when they were taking it apart. Anyway, Stanton Yard does not have any record of it, and nobody seems to know what finally happened.”
- Don Eckton a Portland property control officer in the The Oregonian January 9 1972.
Years later, those in the know speculated that the monument was not hauled away, but knocked down and covered by Harbor Drive. If that is the case, Portland’s Memnon could be under Waterfront Park today, south of the Hawthorne Bridge on in the slope between Front Avenue (Naito Parkway) and the River.
Along with a book and a box, Theodore Roosevelt’s colossus awaits discovery.
Friday, July 18, 2008
The Roosevelt Mysteries